It’s not often that a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet treats you to Ghostbusters, Gladiator and Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” references, but the latest venture of Shit-faced Shakespeare is one-of-a-kind.
Putting on the classics with a twist, one member of the Shit-faced Shakespeare troupe has four hours prior to each show to get absolutely sh*t-faced. In tonight’s show, it was Hamlet himself – who enjoyed two ciders and ¾ of a bottle of tequila in those four hours, and then a further two ciders in the show.
Beth Louise Priestley opens the show as our wonderful Compere. Asking if anyone had seen their troupe before, there were a fair few returnees but many more shy and quiet audience members. Beth soon changed that with her positive and cheeky energy, bringing the audience out of their shells and soon having them laughing, cheering and blowing horns together. It takes skill to make a speech on health & safety fun and pull off those fantastic glittery trousers. And hell, she did both.
The programme has a play synopsis for Shakespeare – and specifically Shit-faced Shakespeare – newbies, so we can follow the story amongst the mayhem. Not that we needed it with David Ellis playing Hamlet, who gave a wonderful performance not just by being hilariously drunk, but as Hamlet. Determined to portray the Prince authentically, he maintained character throughout (apart from a moment where he admitted to feeling disappointed in himself – don’t worry David, we’ve all been there). Ellis fought his way through the text – and if he found himself too drunk to do so, he spoke in modern English but always in character (for example “My Dad’s died and I’m sad” – that is the gist of it). Most admirable was when he made it all the way through the “To be or not to be…” speech despite being wasted and having the rest of the cast hilariously and noisily setting up for the next scene around him. Congratulations are deserved for that alone!
Despite his resolve to play Hamlet well, he was definitely a naughty one – downing his drinks (quickly rescued by the Compere), telling his Mum (Gertrude) to fuck off, pointing out the wrong lighting cues, sending Yorik’s skull off to crowd surf and throwing books into the audience (accidental but still got him told off) – all resulting in him and Laertes being given soft swords for the fight scene. This just made him all the more hysterical to us though, and the mix of drunken naughtiness, dedication to character/text and his consistent high energy was mesmerising – he’d definitely be someone you’d want with you on a night out!
One of the stand-out scenes, that still has me in stitches even thinking about, was between Hamlet and the ghost of his Father (played by Richard Hughes). The chemistry between these two actors was off the charts, with Richard bouncing off of Hamlet well, playing on his level and improvising fantastically around Hamlet’s drunken quips. For example, avoiding “Hamlet’s posterior” when asking to be spanked reminding him of their hatred of incest and discussing how poisoning of the ears isn’t a clever way to try and kill someone. Unfortunately I can’t put into words how Richard lit up the audience with his comedic abilities, so I’ll steal David’s line which gained a round of applause: “Richard is a f***ing legend!” Yes he is, David. Yes he is.
But the company as an entirety were spectacular to watch. Natalie Boakye as Horatio was adorable, with a sweet, dozy energy that layered well with Hamlet’s sarcastic and brash humour. Gertrude and Claudius, played spectacularly by Stacey Norris and Matthew Seager, maintained the dramatic element fantastically, always with clear intentions no matter what got thrown their way. This added excellent levels of humour when played against a drunken Hamlet. Particular mention is to Claudius for staying in grave character when Hamlet decided to suck on his finger. And all three were brilliant as The Players, playing animated dopey actors putting on a show for the others – which included the speech from Gladiator, 20th Century Fox intro music and some hilarious scene changes.
One thing is clear and underpins the appeal of Shit-faced Shakespeare – everyone in the troupe masterfully owns the Shakespearean text and I would gladly watch them in a serious production. The scene where Ophelia has gone mad, with just Laertes, Gertrude and Claudius in attendance, was mesmerising. A stunning still moment in the sea of madness that really draws you in. This is testament to their astounding acting abilities that they manage this after non stop laughter and mayhem.
But special mention has to go to Polonius – played by Tom (audience member) on the first row. He got up on stage when called upon suddenly, sucked Claudius’ finger, wore the ridiculous hat, gave Ophelia advice on how to win Hamlet back and died in a spectacularly dramatic fashion! I bet he didn’t think his Friday night would go down like that! Applause well deserved.
This cast have excellent chemistry – that much is clear from Hamlet trying to make out with them all throughout the show! And even with the modern references and drunken shenanigans, Shit-faced Shakespeare’s Hamlet is incredibly easy to follow. My +1 doesn’t understand or enjoy (normal) Shakespeare, and I brought her thinking it might change her mind – and it did! She followed the story and loved every second of it, as did the whole audience. So whether you’re a lover of Shakespeare, a newbie or just looking for a fun night out, you don’t want to miss out on the hilarity and excitement of the Shit-faced Shakespeare experience – because, as they say: “It’s much better shitfaced, don’t you think?”